When he didn’t respond, she said, “You didn’t give many details about your break-up, but it was good enough to distract the host.” Several heartbeats passed, still with no reply, so she went on. “You did it to draw Brian O’Connor off my case, didn’t you?”
The enigmatic smile returned. The ever-elusive look in his eyes was going to drive her to insanity—which, at this point, would essentially constitute circling the crazy block. Because she’d already arrived there courtesy of the lovely sight of a shirtless Hunter.
He bent over, stepped between the ropes and hopped down, landing in front of her. “Maybe,” he said as he took the hat.
“Cut it out, Mystery Man.” She propped a hand on her hip, doing her best to ignore the beautiful chest on display, the lean torso replete with muscle. “I’m getting you all figured out. You were falsely accused of leaking information and went on to start a company dedicated to helping people protect theirs. I think that’s a great story. One that the public would be interested in hearing.”
The look he shot her was sharp. “My life really isn’t that interesting.” And then, as if declaring an end to the issue, he turned and headed for the locker room.
Carly followed, heels clicking on the wood floor. “We obviously have different definitions of the word.”
“Aren’t you tired of me yet?”
“Not even close.”
Hunter kept walking, his back to her. “Are you planning on joining me in the shower?”
“If I have to.”
Hunter pivoted on his heel and Carly stopped short. For the first time his expression was a mix of curiosity, amusement, and a whole load of impatience. “Do you ever stop being the reporter?”
“No,” she said, the answer easy. “I can’t stop being who I am any more than you can.” She crossed her arms, feeling the truth of her words. “I’m a journalist at heart. It’s not just my nature, it’s my passion. Just like being the white-hat-wearing protector is yours, despite the fact you quit the FBI.” Even as she said the words she knew the truth. One way or another he must have felt he had no option. Carly dropped her voice an octave. “You were cleared, so why did you leave?”
A shadow crossed his face, and the silence that stretched between them was loud—until Hunter finally said, “That nosy nature of yours must have gotten you into a lot of trouble during your life.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“It was simply time to move on.”
Carly let her expression say it all. “I’d bet my brand-new Mini Cooper you didn’t want to leave.”
The moment lasted forever as he stared at her, and when he spoke his words surprised her. “The day before we were scheduled to take our first vacation together I came home and found Mandy had packed up her stuff and gone.” He paused, as if letting her adjust to the change in topic. “I had an engagement ring in my pocket.”
At the words engagement ring Carly’s heart constricted so tight it was hard for it to keep pumping. It wasn’t the answer to the question she’d asked, and his attempt to distract her was obvious, but she could no more change the subject back than she could stop asking questions. He’d cranked up her curiosity, exceeding her lifetime limit to the max.
Cowboy hat in hand, he leaned back against the door leading to the locker room. “After three months of living together it was to be our first trip, and I started with dinner plans at a restaurant she’d always wanted to try. It was too expensive for a government man on a government salary, but I figured it was worth it,” he went on. “Because a guy only gets married once.”
Once. The assumption brought the threat of tears, burning her eyes, surprising her. When Hunter Philips made a promise, he kept it.
“When I called Mandy from work to tell her where I was taking her she must have guessed what was coming.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose it was easier to say no by leaving than refuse me to my face.”
She blinked back the sting in her eyes. No one should be dumped in a way so cowardly and cruel—especially when he’d been about to make the ultimate commitment. “What did you do?”
His voice was easy, smooth, but the words hit hard. “I got drunk and stayed that way.”
It was hardly the response she’d expected.
He tipped his head, his cool eyes steadily holding hers. “After a week-long alcohol binge that probably should have killed me, Booker finally showed up, dragged me off the couch, and shoved me in a shower with my clothes on.” Face composed, he folded his arms, hat dangling from his fingers. A faint smile of memory crossed his face. “It’s all a little fuzzy, but I remember yelling at him to turn off the faucet.” He cut her a dry look. “Unlike Florida, the middle of a Chicago winter means the water is frigid. But Booker just held me under the spray, and I was too drunk to push back.”